Chapter 4 The Guest Who Never Arrived

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Across the room, a tall middle-aged woman was sizing up the inspector. She had short graying hair, a prominent nose, and a tailored dark green dress that flattered her figure. She was as tall as a man and she carried herself gracefully. Riggs had been aware of her gaze for some minutes but it wasn't until he made eye contact that she approached him. She was the sort of woman who may not have been considered beautiful when she was young, but was certainly making up for it as she matured.

Woodrow followed her. "Inspector Riggs, this is a good friend of mine, Miss Elsbeth Snupter. Elsbeth manages the exhibits at the Seattle Art Museum." Woodrow explained in a manner that was both matter-of-fact and clueless.

Elsbeth held out her hand politely, but Riggs could tell from her subtle expression that she appreciated the significance of a policeman's presence even if Mr. Kent and his mother did not.

"Miss Snupter, are you well acquainted with Loretta Newcastle?"

Miss Snupter held her breath for a split second at the mention of the other woman's name. "I wouldn't say we were well acquainted. I've known her for several months but our interactions are limited to artistic events."

Riggs looked at the three people in front of him. "Have any of you heard anything unusual this evening?"

Miss Snupter eyebrow lowered briefly and set her drink on the table. She glanced at Woodrow, but he didn't seem to find the question suggestive.

Mrs. Kent laughed out loud. "What sort of sounds are you hoping for, Inspector? You mean like lovers serenading each other, or werewolf howling at the moon, or a gun shot?"

Miss Snupter turned to her suddenly. "Why would you say that?"

"What?"

"The bit about... werewolves, it's funny. I think you've been watching horror movies at the cinema."

The older woman smiled and shrugged. "But it's a romantic sort of question, isn't it? Noises in the night, that sort of thing. One just thinks about movie monsters or forbidden lovers, or both." She finished her drink in a gulp, smiled, and adjusted the long pearl strands on her neck.

"I'm afraid it was a serious question, Mrs. Kent. Did any of you hear or see anything unusual, especially between 7:30 and 8 o'clock?"

Woodrow shook his head. "A little before 8 o'clock, we wouldn't have seen or heard anything unless it was exceptionally loud." He walked over to a home movie projector. A reel was still on the lower spool. Woodrow picked up the empty can and brought it back to the inspector. "Here. We were watching this."

Riggs read the label aloud, "the London Symphony, 1954. The Leonore overture no 2, by Beethoven."

"It's a lovely piece," Woodrow explained, "but it's quite loud. I always like to have a film at my parties. Something foreign, when I can get it. Last week, I had the Berlin Symphony playing Four Seasons. That piece transports the soul to another level. I find this piece to be more complex, but it's only about 15 minutes long, once you're past the introduction."

"At what time did you begin the film?"

Woodrow glanced up and considered. "I turned it on about half past seven, I believe. After everyone had their cocktails. It took me a minute or so to set it up and to adjust the focus."

"Were the lights out the entire time?"

"Elsbeth turned them off as the film started. It lasted about 20 minutes altogether, if you include the introduction and the credits at the end. Then, of course, the lights were turned back on."

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